Monday, March 21, 2011

Anton Hysen is a gay footballer he confessed........'changing room is a very harsh place to survive'

Gothenburg is a perfect backdrop to this story. It's stolid, self-confident, quiet and handsome - rather like the inhabitants.

But don't imagine that Gothenburg is dull. Because Sweden's second city harbours a global one-off.
One of its professional footballers is openly gay.

Anton Hysen is the sprightly 20-year-old left-sided midfielder for Utsiktens BK, a team from the fourth tier of the Swedish league. He has gelled hair, a collection of piercings, and the names of his parents tattooed in large, cursive font along his forearms. He also - after a polite enquiry by the Swedish football magazine Offside - came out earlier in March.

Anton still lives at home, with his mother. In their bright, white living room, Anton is spooning a vat of pasta and meatballs into his mouth, before he heads off to Monday night training.

He exudes quiet self-assurance: "I'm sure of who I am," he says. "I was born this way. I have nothing to hide." He was surprised, he says, about what a stir - globally - his announcement caused. "But everyone's been really positive," he says.

His mother, Helena, is proud. But as Anton wanders into the kitchen to collect his dessert, she also says that she's worried. "There was an ice hockey player," Helena recalls. "He was stabbed for being gay." She is talking of Peter Karlsson, murdered in 1995 by a Swedish neo-Nazi.

Anton, though, remains both relaxed and bemused. He's been inundated with gifts, messages of support, and invitations to swanky events. "Just because I'm gay doesn't mean I want to go," he says of the latest request. "I hate the Eurovision Song Contest."

His sexuality should not, Anton, asserts be "a big thing". But it is. The reason is that of all the professional footballers playing among Uefa's member associations - let alone those playing in other countries around the world - there appears to be no other avowedly gay player.

The Guardian newspaper's "Secret Footballer" (its anonymous Premier League-playing columnist) says that "the changing room is a very harsh place to survive", but intimates that the banter would not be any worse for a player because of his sexuality, as opposed to, say, his haircut.

So what of the Utsiktens BK changing room? Niklas Tidstrand plays alongside Anton in midfield, and is a friend. He says half the team knew even before Anton came out in public, but still it's been tough. "It's hard to be a gay player," he says. "Because there are so many jokes about 'playing like a man'."
And there's the very rarity of it. "It's really crazy. When we started to talk about this, maybe two years ago, we searched on Google for "gay football players" - and nothing, nothing, it's just jokes. It's scary. So many are gay, but no-one wants to say before their career is over."

And the reason for that was laid bare in the campaign organised by the English FA. Last year, it had to delay the release of its anti-homophobia video, because it couldn't find a footballer to back the message, publicly.
Anton's father, Glenn, knows about English football. Before the 1989/90 season, he signed for Liverpool, and - according to the Independent newspaper, in October 1989 - was a "defender of such class and distinction... (he) has probably altered the course of English football history." Glenn played alongside the "equally cultured" Alan Hansen, and under Kenny Dalglish, and took Liverpool to their last League title.
As it happens, this was just a year before Justin Fashanu became the only English player to come out. Later, after his career had ended, Fashanu hanged himself.

Glenn is still heavily involved in the game, as a commentator and as a coach at Utsiktens. And he, too, is proud of his son. He's fatalistic about the abuse which may yet be hurled at his family. "I haven't heard any bad things yet," he says. "But they will come." He, his other football-playing son, and Anton may all be targets. "But so what? There's going to be some shouting. But I've told Anton, just to forget it."
There hasn't been any trouble so far. Crowds are small, as the teams are still playing only warm-up games, at the end of the long winter break. But as we crunch over the ice and gravel towards the training pitch, Anton says that he's just received his first hate mail.

"I just got a mail from someone who lives around here, who said 'I'm never going to come to your games again, because you've got a faggot in your team'. So what am I supposed to do? I'm supposed to cry in a corner for you?"

On one thing Anton, his father Glenn, his team-mate Niklas, and - for what it's worth - I, agree. It's ridiculous that this is a story at all. As with Steven Davies, English cricket's freshly out gay wicketkeeper, why should we care about a sports star's sexuality - why should it remotely be our business?

The answer may lie, in part, in football's commanding heights. Only three months ago, Fifa boss Sepp Blatter couldn't resist sniggering, in public, about how gay people might have to comport themselves in conservative Qatar, come the 2022 World Cup.

Perhaps there's a neat symmetry here. At 20, Anton Hysen looks and sounds the part of a modern footballer. And 75-year-old Sepp Blatter sounded then as if he hadn't moved on from the world he inhabited at the age of 20.

Football may like to present itself now as a shiny bauble of high-tech boots, high-definition TV and billion-pound tournaments. But in some of its thinking, it remains mired in the days when food was rationed, toilets were outside, and homosexuality was illegal.

source:Tim Franks

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